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Two of the traditional senses of fulsome are (1) offensively, excessively flattering, and (2) excessive in a distasteful way. In both these senses, the adjective is usually negative. A fulsome piece of music, for instance, might be one that is overloud and too busy-sounding. In modern usage, however, the word often means copious or abundant without negative connotations. In this use, the word is often embedded in the phrase fulsome praise. This historically has referred to flattery and excessiveness of praise, but today it usually just refers to hearty, welcome praise.

This positive use of the word is widely believed to be a latter-day development, but it is in fact just as old as, if not older than, the senses considered to be more correct. The Oxford English Dictionary lists “characterized by abundance” as the first definition of the word, with examples going back to the early 14th century. The more negative senses arise a little later. Still, the negative senses have predominated through much of the word’s history


In recent use, the word often describes things that are full or abundant in good ways, especially praise—for example:

One of the ‘fruits’ of growth — extension, form, measure, becoming fulsome — is responsibility. [ Nietzsche and the Necessity of Freedom, John Mandalios]

Strong, who only saw the film in its entirety recently, is fulsome in his praise for his colleagues and is not surprised at the critical and commercial success to date. [Independent]

[W]e see an image of the chancellor in recline, his arms outstretched to both sides and his mouth wide open in a fulsome yawn.[Neither God Nor Master, Brian Price]

Two operations later, Ms. Sterger is a less fulsome figure, but no less spirited. [New York Times]

But in historical use, the word was more often negative, describing things that were excessive or offensive—for example:

His … condition was irksome in other circumstances; … to be present constantly at all their long-winded prayers, and the fulsome cant of their sermons.  [A General History of England, Thomas Carte (1755)]

[T]heir flatterers and parasites constantly deceive them with fulsome praise, and ill-placed compliments. [The Town and Country Magazine (1769)]

The reviewer next charges me (Mr. Parnell says) with fulsome flattery towards the Catholic Clergy. [The Quarterly Review (1820)]

t shows the folly, conceit and indiscretion of the times — and such men were loudest in their fulsome eulogies after the assassination. [The Real Lincoln, Jesse William Weik and Michael Burlingam (1922)]